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Individualist Anarchism: My Personal Revolution

In a recent post, I mentioned that I would begin studying individualist anarchism to determine whether I would be comfortable in applying the label “individualist anarchist” to myself. I have made good on that promise, and based on what I’ve read so far, I can say that I am comfortable with that label, with a few caveats:

  1. I still think that labeling one’s self is problematic because it leads others to make assumptions about you. Labeling others, of course, is equally problematic. It ignores the uniqueness of the individual.
  2. When I say that I’m comfortable with the label “individualist anarchist,” that doesn’t mean that this is set in stone. Learning is a lifelong process. As I continue to learn and grow, my political philosophy is subject to change.
  3. A more accurate or specific label for myself would be individualist veganarchist. (Veganarchism is a portmanteau of veganism and anarchism.) However, I haven’t quite worked out to what extent individualist anarchism and veganarchism are compatible. For example, how can we reconcile the sovereignty of the individual with the idea that individuals should not exploit nonhuman animals? I’m sure this can be worked out, in the same way that individuals should not exploit other human individuals. The key is moving beyond speciesism, and viewing animals as individuals deserving the same sovereignty as us.
  4. All these labels/ideologies are problematic in another way: they are “fixed ideas” or “spooks in the mind,” to borrow from Max Stirner.

I am currently reading Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. So far, I am in love with this book. Many passages send shivers down my spine, while, admittedly, other parts seem long-winded, clumsily worded, pedantic, and/or obscure. But I suppose they seem that way to me mostly because I am far removed from the historical context in which Stirner was writing.

I’ll try to summarize what I’ve read of the book so far, giving myself the liberty to word it in a way that makes it more relevant to my historical context:

I am told that I must concern myself with many things other than myself. If I concern myself with only myself, then I am selfish, and that is bad. Religious people tell me that I should concern myself with God. Nonreligious moralists, who are really no different from religious people in my eyes, tell me that I should concern myself with the “good” — which, you will notice, is only one letter removed from “god.” There are many fixed ideas, all external to myself, to choose from. I can devote my life to my nation, to the revolution, to capitalism, to communism, to anti-fascism, to social justice, and so on.

But to what external cause or idea does God devote Himself? None. God is concerned only with Himself. So God is an egoist. “The nation” is an egoist, for it does not care if I die fighting for it. To sacrifice my own self-concern is to be subservient to someone or something else which, hypocritically enough, is only concerned with himself or itself. I reject this subservience. Rather than serve an egoist, I will be an egoist myself.

My only concern is myself. I am unique. I am not “human,” I am not “man,” I am not “straight, able, white man.” Those are generalities, and they ignore the reality of my uniqueness as an individual.

I am not the categories into which I have been lumped. I am Johnny Fucking Tisdale. Hear me roar!

My own experience confirms that many “nonreligious” people have not truly freed their minds of religious baggage. They still think in terms of good and evil. They instinctively utter the names of deities in times of great pleasure or distress. They say “God bless you” when I sneeze. But most importantly, they moralize things that shouldn’t be moralized. (What really should be moralized?) They moralize politics, and this has disastrous consequences. Religious zealotry is replaced by ideological fervor.

This moralization of politics is the focus of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist. In his cross-cultural research he has found what he calls “the five foundations of morality.”

  1. Harm/care
  2. Fairness/reciprocity
  3. Ingroup/loyalty
  4. Authority/respect
  5. Purity/sanctity

Haidt has determined that political divisiveness results primarily from the fact that liberals focus on the first two while conservatives focus on the latter three.

To moralize something is essentially to make it “sacred.” And when we view something as sacred, Haidt says, we are prevented from thinking objectively about it. In Stirner’s words, “Before the sacred, people lose all sense of power and all confidence; they occupy a powerless and humble attitude toward it.” Whatever is sacred cannot be questioned. And this is why, in my opinion, nothing should be sacred, especially in the realm of politics, where it is of utmost importance for us to question everything, to use science to determine the best methods for arranging society in such a way to maximize sovereignty for the greatest number of individuals.

Haidt says that in leftist thought there are seven “sacred” groups:

  1. African Americans
  2. Women
  3. LGBT
  4. Latinos
  5. Native Americans
  6. Disabled
  7. Muslims

The more your group has been victimized historically, the more weight your opinion should be given. In social justice circles, if a white man and a black woman disagree, the disagreement is not solved on the basis of the merit of the individuals’ ideas. The white man will be silenced. After all, if he has his own opinion and tries to express it, he is just “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining.”

Obviously, the individualist anarchist will not blindly go along with this, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the goal of anarchism is a world without hierarchies. It doesn’t matter if you invert the prevailing hierarchy to create a new one in a misguided attempt to serve justice. An inverted hierarchy is still a hierarchy. Secondly, individualist anarchism is all about the sovereignty and uniqueness of the individual. In this respect, hierarchical thinking and identity politics are an affront to all, whether you’re at the top or the bottom of the hierarchy, because they ignore your individuality and reduce you to being nothing more than a member of your group.

Post-left anarchism (also influenced heavily by Max Stirner) presents a cogent critique of identity politics:

Post-left anarchy tends to criticize what it sees as the partial victimizing views of identity politics… Accepting the social role of victim — in whatever one of its many forms — is choosing to not even create one’s life for oneself or to explore one’s real relationships to the social structures. All of the partial liberation movements — feminism, gay liberation, racial liberation, workers’ movements and so on — define individuals in terms of their social roles. Because of this, these movements not only do not include a reversal of perspectives which breaks down social roles and allows individuals to create a praxis built on their own passions and desires; they actually work against such a reversal of perspective.

Of course, the right moralizes other things, like sexuality, tradition, and authority. Those political moralizations are to be rejected as well, as will be discussed briefly below. But I focus my criticism on the left, because the left is the tribe to which I have so long been a member, so it is leftist groupthink from which I must liberate myself. Besides, it is obvious enough that tradition and authority must be rejected to maximize individual sovereignty, so there is no need for me to discuss that at length.

I have been dealing with a lot of leftist ideological fervor lately, because I have been openly criticizing certain tactics and ideas trending in the antifa movement. In particular, I criticize unprovoked attacks on people we disagree with (Nazi punching) and any limits on free speech. One friend suggested that I am trying to portray antifa as “evil” (there goes that religious baggage again). Another said that I am not an anarchist but a liberal, and that the “hundreds” of anarchists he knows would laugh me out of the room for the liberal nonsense I’ve been peddling. I sent him a message, saying that I value his input and would love to discuss ideas and tactics with him. But I suggested that his criticism should be a little more constructive if we were to have a productive and meaningful conversation. He obviously wasn’t interested, because he blocked me without bothering to respond.

Given the prevailing political polarization, many are unable to see that I am not engaged in a project of wholesale demonization of antifa, but rather a careful strategic analysis of certain tactics and ideas. Every group, every movement, must be open to criticism, especially from within, lest its members succumb to groupthink. But many antifascists seem to think that if you criticize any aspect of antifa whatsoever, then you must be (*gasp*) one of them — a Nazi sympathizer at best, an actual Nazi at worst.

Stirner says:

What now follows from this for the judgment of the moral man? This: that he throws the egoist into the only class of men that he knows besides moral men, into that of the — immoral. He cannot do otherwise; he must find the egoist immoral in everything in which the egoist disregards morality. If he did not find him so, then he would already have become an apostate from morality without confessing it to himself, he would already no longer be a truly moral man.

In other words, the moral man’s mind is so enslaved to the dichotomy between morality and immorality that he cannot comprehend the transcendence of this polarization — the amoral. Similarly, leftists are so accustomed to assailing the right, and defending themselves from attacks thereby, that they view any divergence from leftist groupthink as centrist or rightist.

At this point, while we’re on the subject of the left-right spectrum, I believe a brief digression is in order. Where in the left-right spectrum does anarchism fit? An answer to this question on the Anarchy101 forum is worth sharing (edited slightly):

Historically, anarchism arose out of left-wing movements; that ground has been covered in other answers so I’ll leave that at that. However, if you’re intent on forcing all political ideologies and philosophies into this narrow framework of understanding, and somehow want to find some utility in it, I think it’s also worth examining and understanding the history of this framework.

The idea of there being a spectrum from left wing to right wing originates from the French Revolution, where those who supported the establishment sat on the right, and those who sought to overturn it sat on the left of the assembly room. Throughout history, movements, ideologies, and philosophies have been categorized as left or right according to a large array of criteria. The definitions from Wikipedia are a pretty good summation of this array. Now if we look closely at that array of criteria for assigning the labels “left” and “right,” the common threads that appear are that leftists tend to be opposed to the establishment, concerned with change and “progress,” whereas the right wing tends to support the establishment and is concerned with opposing change and maintaining existing (or reverting to historical) arrangements of social relationships. Even fascism (which is another ideology which defies the right-left dichotomy) can be placed on this one-dimensional axis using these boiled down criteria.

According to this analysis anarchism is broadly speaking a left-wing grouping of philosophies, as opposition to hierarchical authority (which is the common thread uniting all anarchists) can’t be reconciled with supporting the establishment or conserving existing social arrangements. Anarchism is inherently opposed to the reality we live in.

The question is why would you want to use a reductive framework to try to all-encompassingly organize the history and current reality of political thought when to do so you have to reduce the framework even further? The only use I can see is if you’re trying to make sense of politics objectively, assigning essential meanings to the names of ideologies like “anarchism” and “communism” which are supposed to mean the same thing to everyone. The problem is that politics is subjective and can’t be made sense of objectively. Trying to do so is a particularly bad habit of Westerners, and more specifically Anglophones. Maybe it’s because we’re raised in liberal democracies, and the political language of liberal democracy — the words, phrases, and concepts that liberal democracy uses to define itself, and as it happens our native political language — doesn’t allow for subjectivity. Liberalism after all is a child of The Enlightenment, a period of time when we became obsessed with science, assigning essential meanings to things, and naming them to add to our ever expanding lexicon of nouns; and so it makes sense that the political language (and intellectual technology) that our upbringing equips us with is unable to deal with the fact that ideas and their names mean different things to different people at different times, and so words and concepts like “anarchism,” which are highly disputed and whose locus of ideas (the desire to not be ruled) doesn’t have anything to do with the loci of the objective right-left axis (progress/change vs conservation/stasis), are something that we have trouble assigning essential meanings to.

My solution has been to shed the political language that liberal democracy uses to define itself, to stop using it to try to understand ideas that are opposed to it, to stop trying to assign essential meanings to things and instead look at what things mean to me, what they mean to other people, and acknowledging any differences between the two, instead of trying assert an objective judgement of them. Of course I’ll still assert subjective opinions, like “anarcho-capitalism isn’t consistent with anarchism,” but that doesn’t mean I have to assert an objective judgement — I can say “anarchism means X to me, to me that is what anarchism is, even though you disagree” without asserting that someone else’s anarchism is objectively wrong. Instead of trying to understand an ideology or philosophy from an external locus, I try to understand them by seeking out their own locus. I don’t try to understand anarcho-capitalism by looking at it with anarchist concepts and frameworks in mind; I go to its origin and focal point: classical liberalism. It’s also why I use the term “anarcho-capitalist” instead of some derogatory term, because it’s the label anarcho-capitalists use to describe themselves. Anarchists have over hundreds of years developed their own frameworks of concepts and language to describe and discuss anarchism; they are the most relevant and useful frameworks to anarchism because they originated within it.

I think this entire answer is beautfully written, but a couple of points resonate with me in particular (and evoke some thoughts not necessarily endorsed by that writer):

  1. “Leftists” need to stop using “liberal” or “centrist” as insults for people they disagree with if those people do not consider themselves liberal or centrist. Marxists, in particular, seem especially guilty of this, and it is highly counterproductive to meaningful discussion. Try to understand the person from their point of view rather than forcing their view into a reductive framework.
  2. Attempting to understand people from their point of view is necessary because politics, at least as it stands now, is so subjective. People do not approach politics scientifically. Rather, they approach it ideologically. An ideology is little more than a religion, a dogma. It is a set of “fixed ideas” which one holds to be sacred. Social psychologists have found political attitudes, like religious beliefs, to have an affective (emotional) basis rather than a cognitive basis, which is why it is virtually impossible to change anyone’s mind on any political issue. You cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.
  3. Perhaps it’s my Anglophone upbringing, but I do believe that this subjective approach to politics can and should be overcome. I believe, like Jacque Fresco, that, “If science has a lot to do with what works, then clearly there’s much about today’s social and economic setup that isn’t scientific, because things aren’t working very well for a majority of the world’s population or the environment. If they were, war, poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, etc., would not be so prevalent today. Unfortunately, our social structures evolved with no overall global planning.”

As anarchism doesn’t fit neatly into the left-right spectrum, it’s no wonder that a “post-leftist” strain has emerged in anarchist thought.

Some post-leftists seek to escape the confines of ideology in general while also presenting a critique of organizations and morality. Influenced by the work of Max Stirner, post-leftists argue that the left, even the revolutionary left, is anachronistic and incapable of creating change. Post-left anarchy offers critiques of radical strategies and tactics which it considers antiquated: the demonstration, class-oriented struggle, focus on tradition, and the inability to escape the confines of history.

Now, to returning to my critique of antifa. Despite the accusations of tribalistic leftists who have difficulty thinking outside of the left-right dichotomy, I do not criticize antifa because I disagree with the end goal of opposing fascism. My concern is that the decentralization of the antifa movement makes it all too easy for the agents of the capitalist class to infiltrate it and sow the seeds of its destruction from within. We saw this with Occupy Wall Street. Undercover cops infiltrated and performed false flag operations, destroying private property to discredit the movement. It is entirely possible that the capitalist class are doing this with antifa, doing their best to portray the movement as sinister and violent so that it will be discredited. It is also possible that they are using neo-Nazis and the KKK as pawns to steer public opinion in the direction of accepting limits on free speech. I am extremely disappointed in the shortsightedness of many leftists, who seem to think that the limits on free speech would stop with Nazis. The neo-fascist administration would obviously use the limits on expressions of Nazism as a precedent to stamp out other forms of political dissent. Antifa would be next on the chopping block.

Historically, one alternative to decentralization is a vanguard party — a small group of professional revolutionaries who control the movement. As an individualist anarchist, though, I obviously have reservations about such an idea. I don’t want to be ruled by a vanguard party any more than I want to be ruled by the capitalist class. Lenin himself (who popularized vanguardism) was likened to Robespierre by Trotsky because he was unable to accept any criticism, even from his most dedicated followers. And if tomorrow’s revolution is controlled by a vanguard party, then I fear said party would be led by ideological zealots like the ones who have been attacking me for daring to think for myself. I would likely be sent to the gulag, if not outright killed, for my refusal to bend the knee.

Perhaps a vanguard party is a necessary evil. Then again, perhaps not. I think decentralization can work. But for it to work, and indeed for any kind of anarchist society to work, individuals must be just that — individuals. We must remain hypervigilant. We must be willing to call out bad ideas when we see them, because it’s possible that these bad ideas were sown by capitalist infiltrators. But it’s difficult to call out bad ideas when disagreeing ever so slightly with the party line gets you labeled a Nazi sympathizer.

One common thread among individualist anarchists is:

The rejection of, or reservations about, the idea of revolution, seeing it as a time of mass uprising which could bring about new hierarchies. Instead they favor more evolutionary methods of bringing about anarchy through alternative experiences and experiments and education which could be brought about today. This is also because it is not seen as desirable for individuals to wait for revolution to start experiencing alternative experiences outside what is offered in the current social system.¹

That’s the fun thing about individualist anarchism. You don’t have to wait for your fellow wage slaves to achieve class consciousness. Your personal revolution (your evolution?) can begin now. There are many ways in which the exertion of your will can result in a significant change in your experience. To use a very overused phrase, you can be the change you want to see in the world. And doing this is much preferable to sitting around waiting for some promised revolution. Of course, you can also change your lifestyle and work toward the revolution simultaneously, if you so desire.

One major difference between the left and the right seems to be their views on personal (i.e., individual) accountability. The left focuses on social and environmental factors, while the right focuses on personal choice. For example, suppose someone is addicted to nicotine. A leftist will likely focus on the fact that Big Tobacco targets low-income communities. In other words, the leftist will avoid blaming the victim. The right-winger, on the other hand, will likely focus on the individual’s choice to begin smoking cigarettes. While it may be true that the individual was bombarded with tobacco advertisements from a young age, no one put a gun to the individual’s head and forced them to smoke that first cigarette.

The idea that we should focus on either social/environmental influences or personal choice is yet another symptom of this polarized, tribalistic age. In truth, no model of human behavior is complete if it does not take both into consideration. Environmental forces definitely play a role in shaping human behavior, but humans are also capable of reflexivity, defined as “the capacity of an agent to recognize forces of socialization and alter their place in the social structure.”

A low level of reflexivity would result in an individual shaped largely by their environment (or “society”). A high level of social reflexivity would be defined by an individual shaping their own norms, tastes, politics, desires, and so on. This is similar to the notion of autonomy.

I can become aware of the environmental factors that are determining my behavior. Indeed, this ability is central to the definition of intelligence proposed by Robert Sternberg in his groundbreaking triarchic theory of intelligence. According to this theory, intelligence is the ability to:

  1. adapt to one’s environment,
  2. select one’s environment, and
  3. shape one’s environment.

So, while it is important to take note of social and environmental influences, it is also true that focusing exclusively on these influences treats the individual like the hapless victim of external forces. Anarchist education would, ideally, empower the individual by imparting a high degree of reflexivity.

Almost everyone on Earth seems to be addicted to something. Even Zen monks regularly drink green tea, which contains caffeine. More common, at least among Americans, is the daily consumption of coffee, which is not only much more addictive than tea, but also contributes to the exploitation of coffee farmers in the developing world. So by drinking coffee, not only do I sacrifice my own sovereignty by becoming dependent on an exogenous substance, but I am also complicit in the violation of the sovereignty of other individuals. And this should concern me, if not because of morality (which after all is just a spook in the mind), then because a system in which any individual’s sovereignty is threatened is a system in which my own sovereignty might be threatened.

Many anti-capitalists say, “There is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism.” And to a degree that is true, but it can also be a cop-out to avoid personal responsibility and to continue making extremely unethical consumer choices when there are less unethical choices available. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. While it might be impossible to spend money in this economy without someone in the chain being exploited, you can still choose to spend your money in ways that minimize your contributions to exploitation.

So, what are some specific ways in which I can exert my willpower to cast off the chains of society and increase not only my own sovereignty but also that of other individuals, both human and nonhuman?

  • Abstain from using all addictive substances — caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, etc.
  • Abstain from using animal products — meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc.
  • Know where your food and other goods are coming from, and make your consumer choices as “ethical” as possible. Grow as much of your own food as possible.
  • Live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. A state of vibrant health expands your possibilities and frees you from dependence on profiteering medical professionals and pharmaceutical corporations.
  • Escape from mental prisons such as organized religion — particularly the theistic ones, which condition you to submit to “higher powers.”
  • Reject unnecessary traditions such as marriage, monogamy, and heteronormativity. Do not allow your sexual expression to be limited by social acceptability. Just make sure your sexual expression doesn’t violate the sovereignty of other individuals. Consenting human adults only!
  • Limit your exposure to mainstream media, which is a tool used by the capitalist class for mass conditioning and manipulating public opinion.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook, as its engineers design it to get you to spend as much time on the platform as possible, even against your will and to your detriment. The red notification symbol activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, thus allowing them to use techniques of operant conditioning on you. If you do use Facebook, and social media in general, avoid creating an ideological echo chamber, as this subjects you to groupthink. Instead of Google, use DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t create a filter bubble and doesn’t profit from your searches.
  • Experiment with technologies of self-liberation, such as meditation. The responsible use of psychedelics is an extremely powerful way of dissolving the rigid mental boundaries created by social conditioning. While LSD is preposterously classified as a Schedule 1 substance, it has no addictive potential whatsoever, as its mechanism of action does not involve the dopamine reward system.

These are just some suggestions to help you get started. The key is to practice reflexivity. Notice when you are being influenced by external forces. If these forces are influencing you in ways that are not in your best interest, then reject them. Don’t be afraid to be selfish. Be your authentic self — unapologetically and wholeheartedly.

Why I No Longer Identify As A Socialist

I do not remember the exact moment at which I started identifying as a socialist. I do remember being turned off by my high school history teacher’s dismissive attitude toward socialism. We’re all familiar with such statements: “It looks good on paper, but it could never work.” If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that, I’d be a member of the capitalist class by now. This teacher was a veteran who grew up during the Red Scare. Like every good Baby Boomer, he was conditioned to fear socialism, though he seemed unable to define it.

I actually had a lot of respect for this teacher. We were in the Bible Belt, but he was an atheist, and he made no attempt to keep that a secret. But his biased comments on socialism only served to pique my interest in that mysterious political philosophy.

At first, I only knew that socialism was the antithesis of capitalism. I really didn’t understand what capitalism was either, just as a fish doesn’t understand what water is. I was conditioned in a hyper-capitalistic society, so I took capitalism for granted. Simply putting a name on it — “capitalism” — is in itself liberating. It allows you to think critically about the structure of the society in which you were indoctrinated, where before you simply accepted it. “That’s just the way things are.”

And the more I learned, the more I realized: I don’t like the way things are. Capitalism is far from ideal. If socialism was the alternative, then I was automatically attracted to it. I wanted to know more.

Years later, in my mid-twenties, I attended a rally in downtown Montgomery. If I remember correctly, it was hosted by the Montgomery Area Freethought Association, and the purpose was to protest the passing of some new law that violated the principle of separation of church and state. There were several speakers, including a member of the Mobile chapter of Socialist Alternative. I was so inspired by her speech that I approached her afterwards. Along with a couple of other Montgomerians, I agreed to visit Mobile to discuss the creation of a Montgomery chapter of Socialist Alternative.

The trip to Mobile was fun. I was accustomed to being the lone socialist, arguing with capitalists. But now I found myself in the company of like-minded individuals. We met at a bookstore and split into discussion groups. I learned a lot. But in retrospect, the most important thing I learned was that, in fact, these individuals were not as like-minded as I initially thought.

The common thread uniting us was a distaste for capitalism. But, when I began to speak about the alternatives, disagreement ensued. During the drive to Mobile, I was all but ridiculed for mentioning The Venus Project. I was labeled a “utopian” and an “idealist,” and those words were uttered as if they were necessarily insults.

The next day, after we had met the others at the bookstore and split into groups, we were discussing some aspect of post-revolutionary governance. I can’t remember the specifics, but I said, “I don’t think we should do X because [insert practical considerations here].” Someone looked at me and said, with a straight face, “But Marx said we should do X.” Full stop. No practical considerations, just a spineless appeal to authority.

I was so taken aback by this dogmatism that I was rendered speechless. If I was guilty of being too optimistic, my specific crime was not my utopianism, but that I expected a higher capacity for critical, original thought among those who had freed themselves from the mental prison of capitalism.

The priests of the Leftist cults [are] highly suspicious of any individualistic tendencies that might lead followers to think on their own… Book clubs are good, meetings are fine, but none of these things bring you any closer to freedom. There’s something strangely religious to it all, isn’t there? These people with their chosen book getting together to talk about how good everything will be when justice finally sweeps down and fixes everything. They flip pages, or gab endlessly, sure that if just enough people heard the “good news” of one theory or another everything would change. What’s a protest but an old school Protestant revival dressed up in red and black?¹

Just as many apostates simply replace Christianity by making a religion out of science, many socialists have simply abandoned one set of masters for another. They remain slaves. They remain followers. This is the primary reason that I no longer identify as a socialist. My distaste for capitalism is stronger than ever. But I am an individualist. I despise dogma in any form. I do not want to be part of any cult, any religion, any tribe, any party.

Political divisiveness has reached a fever pitch. Democrats and Republicans are more akin to football teams than political parties. Meaningful, productive conversation is off the table; the goal is to “win.” The bipartisan system reinforces dualistic thinking, which has become so hopelessly entrenched that it maintains its stranglehold even on those “revolutionaries” who eschew the established political structure in favor of sexier alternatives like socialism or libertarianism. They have left one tribe only to join another.

So, if I am not a socialist, then what am I? At this point in my life I am hesitant to adopt any label.

First, everyone will assume, on the basis of this label, that they know my stance on a host of complicated issues. After all, if you’re a leftist, then you must favor gun control. If you’re a right-winger, then you must deny human-caused climate change. This is tribalism at its finest. There is no room for nuance. There is no room for free thought. Toe the party line.

Second, to apply a label to one’s self is essentially to claim membership in a group, and every group has its own rigid ideology. The label “capitalist” or “socialist” becomes central to one’s identity, and a psychological event horizon is created, beyond which one’s thoughts cannot pass. I was foolish to think that socialists would somehow be free of these tribalistic tendencies. I was proven wrong, and after suffering such disenchantment, why would I now make the same mistake again?

Perhaps I could call myself an individualist anarchist. But even then, were I to associate with other individualist anarchists, I’m afraid that one of them might utter, “But Stirner said we shouldn’t do X!”

I think a common criticism of anarchists — individualist anarchists in particular — is that their proposals are doomed to fail because their individualism prevents them from cooperating. However, I don’t find this criticism to be valid. I believe that unity can exist without uniformity. In other words, not only can strong-willed individuals come together and cooperate without forming a tribe and succumbing to groupthink, but I believe such a collective of individuals would be capable of much more than your average tribe of loyal, dimwitted followers.

I will have to study individualist anarchism further before I decide whether I want to adopt this label. In the meantime, I will not shrink back from the dreaded u-word.

The reactions of the socialists who might read this are so predictable that they may as well be the robots who will perform all menial tasks in the ideal society. They will call me an “idealist” — and expect me to be insulted.

The problem is that they think idealism and practicality are mutually exclusive. They’re not. In fact, they can and should be complimentary. One can be guided by both ideals and practical considerations. Your ideals are the destination; practical considerations are how to get there.

Political ideologies have two dimensions:

  1. Goals: how society should work
  2. Methods: the most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement²

The Marxist tribesmen will fail to grasp this, for their dear leader took pleasure in criticizing the “utopian” socialists that preceded him, smugly differentiating his own brand by calling it “scientific” socialism. Despite this, Marx did in fact acknowledge his debt to Saint-Simon.

Just as it is dangerous to assume that we have entered a post-ideological age, as this “can enable the deepest, blindest form of ideology,”³ it is dangerous for Marxists to think that Marxism is free of idealism. Any political ideology is, by definition, an opinion on the ideal form that society should take. The Marxist ideal is a stateless, classless, moneyless society with collective ownership of the means of production.

When a Marxist says that Marxism is not idealistic because it is based on dialectical materialism, this simply means that he believes that class struggle is the most realistic method to achieve the ideal society. When a Marxist says that it is “regressive” to be a utopian, he assumes that anyone who calls himself a utopian rejects the notion that class struggle is necessary.

But this is a faulty assumption, for there is no Utopian Party with a well-defined list of principles. A Marxist defines the word “utopian” on the basis of Marx’s use of that word — as a pejorative to describe thinkers who either had no conception of class struggle or believed that the capitalist class would abdicate if presented with a convincing enough utopian proposal. The “utopian” socialists did not refer to themselves as such. Very few people self-identify as utopian, for in most people’s eyes, that word is a synonym for “impossible.”

What I am doing, in a sense, is reappropriating the u-word. I call myself a utopian because I have not been convinced that any ideology presented thus far got it completely right. I find it especially dubious that an armchair philosopher writing centuries ago had all the answers for this day and age. The Communist Manifesto was written in the 1840s. There is no way that Marx and Engels could have foreseen the bewildering technological advancements, historical events, and geopolitical trends that have occurred since.

That being said, technological utopianism is actually quite progressive, while orthodox Marxism is outdated and regressive. Marx said that our proposals must be based on the actual material conditions of society, and yet present-day Marxists are stuck on the actual material conditions of mid-19th-century European society.

Every organized religion was founded by someone who had a direct spiritual experience. Rather than seek such an experience themselves, the masses huddle around their savior, hanging onto his every word. Buddhists worship the Buddha, Christians worship Christ, and Marxists worship Marx.

I call myself a utopian because I am not a follower. Many people are followers, and for that reason I believe that Marxism has an important role to play. It is a good first step for those who have decided to free themselves from the capitalist colonization of their minds.

But as for me, rather than blindly accepting what a 19th-century European had to say about achieving the ideal society, I will approach the problem with a fresh mind. I will think for myself. I will explore all options, all avenues, all possibilities. I will approach political science as just that: a science. This would be impossible were I the slavish devotee of one particular ideology. I will pick and choose what works from various ideologies.

And perhaps I will create my own.

Cultural Revolution

It is tempting for those who are dissatisfied with the present system, especially those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, to blame everything on those at the top. However, suppose that tomorrow you became the richest person on Earth. Do you think that you would be able to change the system? How would you do it?

First of all, you might be opposed by other, less philanthropic billionaires. But even if all the world’s billionaires joined forces to bring about utopia, they would still face serious problems.

One way of looking at society is that it is nothing more than the sum of its parts. In other words, society is nothing more than a group of individuals living in a particular area. In order to have a utopian society, you need utopian citizens. You need an enlightened populace. And unfortunately, no one on this planet was socialized in a utopian society.

In America, we have a problem with political apathy. Only 55% of eligible citizens voted in the 2016 presidential election. A huge percentage of the global population consists of childlike individuals who want a parental figure to think about the tough issues for them. Capitalists enjoy being ruled by Big Business and communists enjoy being ruled by Big Government. In other words, most people are followers. What we need is a society of leaders.

We need a society of strong-willed, independent thinkers. But under both capitalism and communism, the purpose of education is to produce workers. Although this is disputed, the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, who put a lot of funding into education, allegedly said, “I don’t want a nation of thinkers. I want a nation of workers.”

Malcolm X spoke some relevant words on this issue in an interview with the Village Voice:

“The greatest mistake of the Movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first then you’ll get action.”

Wake them up to their exploitation?

“No, to their humanity, their own worth, and to their heritage. The biggest difference between the parallel oppression of the Jew and the Negro is that the Jew never lost his pride in being a Jew. He never ceased to be a man. He knew he had made a significant contribution to the world, and his sense of his own value gave him the courage to fight back. It enabled him to act and think independently, unlike our people and our leaders.”

While Malcolm X makes the case that people of color have been particularly dehumanized, I would say that this problem is not exclusive to that demographic. Most modern societies are inherently dehumanizing. We are cogs in a machine.

I’m not trying to blame the victim here. I’m not saying that the less-than-ideal status of modern societies is the fault of the masses. But I am pointing out that the masses can, should, and must be a part of the solution. The absolute power of monarchs lasted only until the people rose up and forced the king to sign the Magna Carta. And today’s oppressive systems will last only as long as the people allow them to.

But a revolution in the structure of society is unlikely to occur without a preceding cultural revolution. We need to look within ourselves and uncover the ways in which our minds have been colonized. We must also dare to face the ways in which we are complicit in the injustices of the system.

So how do we bring about this cultural revolution? In many ways it has already begun. The majority of young people in the United States prefer socialism over capitalism. (I see socialism and capitalism as two sides of the same coin. But America has taken capitalism to the extreme so I think that moving toward the socialist end of the spectrum is a step in the right direction.) There are socialist parties springing up all over America. There are plenty of woke people you can follow on Twitter.

But there is always room for improvement. What more can be done to bring about the cultural revolution? The most obvious answer is education. And I don’t just mean college education, because anyway, as most conservatives will tell you, there is a strong leftist bias in academia. We need to start getting people woke at a younger age. When your kids ask you tough questions, don’t give them bullshit answers. When they ask where babies came from, your answer shouldn’t involve the stork. Tell them the truth. Don’t indoctrinate them with stories of imaginary characters like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and God. Theistic religions wire people to be followers whose first instinct is to appeal to a “higher power” to solve their problems.

But as long as the education system is poorly funded and controlled by the corporate state, it is doubtful that it will produce independent thinkers rather than obedient workers. Fortunately, almost everyone in America now has a smart phone. You have the sum total of human knowledge in the palm of your hand. And yet, how do people use this resource? They waste time keeping up with the latest rumors on Jay Z’s infidelity, watching cat videos, etc. So despite access to information, people don’t use it. You can take college courses online for free from Ivy League schools. Why aren’t more people doing it? Because they were never taught to love learning. They were never taught that learning is a life-long enterprise, not limited to the acquisition of a degree which allows you to get a certain job. They fail to grasp the fact that education is an end in itself, as it empowers the individual.

So how do we get people to take advantage of the amazing resources that are available to them? This is where we have to put the “culture” in “cultural revolution.” We have to make learning sexy and cool. In a way this is already being done with the word “woke.” But again, there is room for improvement.

Enter the tech bros.

Marx criticized the utopian socialists for thinking that the capitalist class could be convinced to adopt utopian schemes, but I think they can. In Silicon Valley, there is already much interest in things like seasteading and fully automated luxury communism. Admittedly, we can’t rely solely on the capitalist class to bring about utopia, but some of its members might be willing to help. Capitalism is a system, and it is a dehumanizing system for all who are caught in it, including those fortunate enough to be in the capitalist class. It is difficult to find true fulfillment in a hypermaterialistic, consumeristic culture, no matter how much money you have. Everyone, rich and poor alike, would benefit holistically from having a more enlightened populace.

So what can the billionaire tech bros do? They are already exerting enormous influence over people’s minds and lifestyles because we are spending inordinate amounts of time in the virtual spaces they create. An early investor in Facebook and Google recently condemned the companies for aggressively hacking our brains to sell more ads. Instead of using their technological influence to keep us locked into a consumeristic mindset, the tech giants could tailor the user experience to influence people in the opposite direction. They could try to turn the people whose brains they’re hacking into utopian citizens.

And if they’re not willing to do that, then we need to initiate a mass exodus from their virtual spaces and create our own.

The Death of Chivalry is Good for Feminism

People are always complaining that chivalry is dead.

I say the death of chivalry a good thing – for feminism.

Chivalry may seem nice but it is based on outdated gender norms where women are seen as inherently weak and helpless creatures, utterly incapable of opening a door or wading through a puddle without a gentleman first destroying his coat in it.

Sometimes when I’m entering a store I’ll hold the door open for the person behind me (although I don’t allow them to enter before me). I do this for efficiency’s sake; it takes virtually no time or effort on my part and makes someone else’s life a little bit easier. I do this regardless of that person’s gender. If the person is so far away that I would have to stand there holding the door open for an unnaturally long time, then I don’t do it, because that would be inefficient. It would require me to wait when the person is perfectly capable of opening the door on their own. If the person is a man, there’s no hard feelings. In fact, it would be almost weird for me to stand there holding the door open for him. But if the person is a woman, I feel the pressure of centuries of patriarchy, a little voice urging me to be a “gentleman.”

And I tell that voice to shut the fuck up, because this woman is perfectly capable of opening a door.

Betas Are The New Alpha

There has been a lot of talk lately about alpha males and beta males.

Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser, said on Lou Dobbs Tonight that Trump is “demonstrating alpha leadership.” Dobbs said that Trump has a problem with women, who tend to prefer the “beta” leadership of Obama.

Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer, claimed in a Youtube video that he was “the true alpha male.”

After buying a gun, Christopher Harper-Mercer wrote, “Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?” He later killed ten people, including himself, at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The terms “alpha male” and “beta male” originated in the field of ethology, the study of nonhuman animal behavior. When studying groups of animals, ethologists noticed that the organisms arranged themselves in social hierarchies. “Alpha” is the term given to the highest-ranking organism(s). In a given hierarchy, the alpha might be a male (“alpha male”), a female (“alpha female”), or both (“alpha pair”). Next in line are the betas. These individuals act as second-in-command to the alpha. If the alpha dies, it is a beta who takes his or her place. Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy, are the omegas, who are little more than scapegoats.

At some point, these terms were generalized to human populations. That’s not surprising, as humans are also animals with social hierarchies. But as you may have already noticed, there is a discrepancy between the way ethologists apply these terms to nonhuman animals and the way bloggers and pundits apply them to humans. If that’s not immediately clear, reread the preceding paragraph. Notice that as technical ethnological terms, “alpha” and “beta” refer only to social status. If we are told only that a particular organism is the alpha male, all we know is that he is the highest-ranking member of the hierarchy. We know nothing about his traits. Maybe he used brute strength to become the alpha, or maybe he outsmarted his competitors. There are no inherent differences between alphas and betas. Remember, when the alpha dies, it is a beta who becomes the new alpha. This would not work if betas were inherently different from alphas.

This lexical nuance is lost on most writers who capitalize on the trendiness of the alpha/beta meme. An alpha male may be as high-ranking as Donald Trump or as low-ranking as a blue-collar worker. A beta male may be as high-ranking as Barack Obama or as low-ranking as a barista.

When applied to humans, the terms designate not social rank but personal traits. Alphas are big, strong, loud, and aggressive. Betas are smart, sensitive, soft-spoken, and cooperative. In other words, alphas embody the traditional concept of masculinity. They use their size and strength to get what they want. They are the jocks. Meanwhile, the nerdy betas rely on intelligence to get ahead.

The erroneous equation of alpha status with specific traits is understandable because in most of the animals observed, the alphas are, in fact, big, strong, loud, and aggressive. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. Stronger, more aggressive organisms are more likely to survive in an environment where survival depends on hunting and fending off predators.

But let’s not forget that whether a behavior is adaptive or maladaptive depends on the environment to which we must adapt. As the environment changes, what counts as adaptive behavior also changes.

And O how our environment has changed! By adapting to the environment, we have also changed it, building cities that would have bewildered our ancestors, and in many ways bewilder us. The environmental conditions that compelled our species to divide labor along lines of biological sex no longer exist. We don’t have to hunt; we have grocery stores. So men don’t have to be macho to survive and women don’t need a man to survive.

The problem with the popular use of the term “alpha male” is that it encourages maladaptive behavior via the glorification of an outdated model of masculinity. It ignores the reality of life in a modern Western democracy.

Being loud and aggressive may have conferred an adaptive advantage for our ancestors, but in modern society these same traits are maladaptive. Being loud and aggressive will probably get you thrown in jail. Being intelligent and sensitive will get you ahead, as evidenced by the success of men like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and President Barack Obama.

Veganism is a Scientific Imperative

Over the years, I have dabbled in a lot of “New Age bullshit” – everything from astrology to zen. In part, what attracted me to these topics was the degree to which they were shunned by the mainstream scientific community. I despise hegemony in any form. As wonderful as science is, anyone who has read Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions knows that science is subject to the errors and biases of scientists, who, despite their best efforts, remain mere mortals, incapable of pure objectivity.

I strive to be open-minded. To that end, I refused to dismiss New Age topics simply because the scientific authorities wanted me to. In so doing, I remained true to the spirit of science, which is based on empiricism and rationalism. Science demands that we accept information on the basis not of authority but of experience and reason.

Over the years, my interest in many New Age topics has faded. But for a few of them – meditation, yoga, and veganism – my interest has only been validated and strengthened by an ever-growing body of scientific research.

Some might debate whether veganism can rightly be considered a New Age topic. I do not claim that veganism is inherently New Age, only that it has been associated therewith. Maybe New Agers are more likely to try veganism. They’re already willing to question the mainstream scientific consensus, so it’s only natural that they’re willing to question the age-old belief that humans need to eat animal products to be healthy.

In fact, it was my study of Celtic druidism that led me to become a vegan. In The 21 Lessons of Merlyn, the druid instructs a young Arthur to refrain from eating animal products during his training. The rationale is that when one consumes an animal product, one absorbs the qualities of the respective animal. The purpose of humanity, Merlyn says, is to transcend the animal kingdom. Absorbing the qualities of an animal is counterproductive, as it causes you to take a step backward into the animal kingdom.

Obviously, my reason for becoming a vegan was pretty unscientific. You might therefore assume that my assertion that veganism is a more science-minded lifestyle to be a post hoc rationalization. But the same could be said for those who deny the benefits of veganism. Most people who eat meat do so not because they consciously adopted an omnivorous diet, but because their parents fed them animal products. By the time we are old enough to think rationally about health, the environment, ethics, and spirituality, the habit of eating meat has become so ingrained that kicking it would require significant effort.

It has been said that you cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into. Meat eaters did not arrive at the practice of eating meat through reason, so cold hard facts alone will not convert them to veganism. I was not converted by reason (or compassion). I was converted by an emotionally charged desire to catalyze my spiritual development.

Although I did not arrive at veganism scientifically, my passion for and commitment to veganism has been bolstered by science. Whether veganism is inherently more spiritual than omnivorism, it is undeniably healthier and better for the environment. I have come to the view that eating animal products is unscientific. It is trendy to be science-minded, as evidenced by the title of a popular Facebook page: I Fucking Love Science. But can you really claim to be science-minded if you do not base your lifestyle choices on scientific evidence?

I know that many will protest this bold assertion. After all, plenty of science-minded people smoke cigarettes. But I would also argue that anyone who smokes cigarettes is not properly sciencing.

The problem is that for many people, science-mindedness is little more than nominal. You say you are an atheist. You say you believe in the Big Bang and evolution, and reject intelligent design and creationism. You even like I Fucking Love Science and share a few of their memes. But it’s all talk. You might refrain from going to church and praying, but even that is an inaction, not an action. What are you doing to be science-minded?

For me, science-mindedness is not merely an intellectual position. It requires us to act. What good is it to know about climate change, the correlation between cigarettes and cancer, or the health benefits of veganism if you don’t alter your behavior on the basis of that information?

Neil deGrasse Tyson says in an episode of Cosmos:

We’re pumping greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere at a rate not seen on Earth for a million years. And the scientific consensus is that we’re destabilizing our climate. Yet our civilization seems to be in the grip of denial; a kind of paralysis. There’s a disconnect between what we know and what we do. Being able to adapt our behavior to challenges is as good a definition of intelligence as any I know.

If our greater intelligence is the hallmark of our species, then we should use it, as all other beings use their distinctive advantages to help ensure that their offspring prosper, and their heredity is passed on, and that the fabric of nature that sustains us is protected.

The relationship between veganism and climate change is more intimate than you might think. According to the United Nations (which presumably employs some of the world’s leading scientists), the consumption of animal products is a leading cause of climate change.

Veganism, then, is not merely a moral imperative. It is not merely a healthcare imperative. It is a scientific imperative. By eating meat, you not only ignore the suffering of animals and the ill effects on your own health. You also ignore the ill effects that your personal choices have on the environment. You are risking the survival of the human species.

In an amazing interview between philosopher Peter Singer and biologist Richard Dawkins, Singer asserts that our horrendous treatment of animals is based on a pre-Darwinian worldview. Before Darwin, we did not think of humanity as just another animal species. There was a sharp dichotomy between humans and animals. In the Western world, this was based on the idea that a god created humanity in his own image, and placed animals here for us to use as we please. Thomas Aquinas even argued that it is not immoral to torture animals.

Then Darwin came along and proved that humans are, in fact, just another animal species. The difference between humans and animals is merely a difference of degree. We no longer have any compelling justification for eating animals. If it is unethical to kill and eat humans, then it is unethical to kill and eat animals. If it is ethically permissible to kill and eat animals, then it is ethically permissible to kill and eat humans.

I greatly admire the meat-eating Dawkins, for in his commitment to logical consistency, he agrees with Singer. He even has the humility to admit that Singer is a more ethical individual, and wishes that there were more people like him. Perhaps a long career in science has insulated Dawkins from the defensiveness and denial so often exhibited by meat eaters who are confronted with the unpleasant reality that their personal choices are unethical.

What does ethics have to do with science? That is probably the attitude adopted by the Nazi doctors who performed cruel experiments on living people. But in this day and age, ethics and science are inseparable. In academia, one must win the approval of an “ethical review board” to conduct research on human participants. Science is not merely a body of empirical data; it is also a philosophy of how this data should be put to use. In short, we should use the fruits of science to improve the wellness of ourselves, our fellow species, and the environment that we share.

Postmodernism as the Superstructure of Late Capitalism

I recently received a copy of A Dictionary of Postmodernism. The first entry I read was on Frederic Jameson. This is pretty un-postmodern of me, but I felt that its tone was inappropriate for a dictionary entry. Admittedly, in the introduction, the author explains that because of postmodernism’s now-canonical tendency to resist definition, each entry takes the form of an essay. Still, I wanted to learn about Frederic Jameson and his contributions more than be convinced by the author (Niall Lucy) that said contributions are unfounded.

The thrust of Jameson’s thought is summed up in the first sentence: “Because we are alienated, we are postmodern; and we are alienated because we are subjects under capitalism.” This is elaborated in the next few paragraphs. Jameson considers postmodernism to be the “superstructure” to the “base” of late capitalism (1945-present), whereas modernism was the superstructure of middle capitalism (1850-1945) and realism was the superstructure of early capitalism (1700-1850 in Europe).

superstructure.png

For Jameson, the defining characteristic of modern culture is expressivity and the defining characteristic of postmodern culture is depthlessness.

Lucy takes issue with the idea that “culture, whether modern or postmodern” can be “understood merely as the reflection of an economic base (or some other essence or foundation).” The thrust of his argument is:

  • If culture is merely the superstructure of an economic base, then “cultural objects must be seen as representational.” In other words, all modern works should be expressive and all postmodern works should be depthless.
  • This is not the case, because Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (which is nothing more than a mass-produced urinal given the name Fountain) was produced during middle capitalism, yet exhibits postmodern qualities.

Seriously. That’s Lucy’s argument. He does not allow for the possibility that maybe Duchamp was just ahead of his time. Lucy sees no room for outliers. In his view, if even a single work of art produced during middle capitalism can be interpreted as depthless, then Jameson’s assertion that postmodernism is the superstructure of late capitalism must be false.

I am not convinced. Lucy fails to consider that perhaps modernism defined mainstream culture during middle capitalism, a nuance that allows for countercultural or subcultural deviation by individuals. Many consider Nietzsche and William James to have been “postmodern.” Their existence does not serve as proof that postmodernism is not the superstructure of late capitalism. The hesitation to define these early thinkers as postmodern arises from their very earliness.

Here it is important to distinguish between two levels of analysis: the ideological and the historical. Considered ideologically, postmodernism is not limited to a specific historical period. In this sense, the Sophists of Ancient Greece may be considered postmodern. Considered historically, it makes sense to think of “post-modernism” as the superstructure of late capitalism. There may or may not be good reasons to reject this view, but if there are, they were not presented by Lucy in his essay on Frederic Jameson.